Freddie Bell, a forerunner in the 1950s rock 'n' roll era, has died. He was 76. He died late Sunday in a Las Vegas hospital of complications from cancer, said his publicist Norm Johnson.
Bell was performing at the Sands casino-hotel on the Las Vegas Strip in April 1956 where Elvis Presley, who played Las Vegas for the first time across the street at the New Frontier, saw him performing their post-Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton arrangement of "Hound Dog". Their version inspired him to record his own single just a couple of months later, almost exactly as Freddy Bell arranged the Leiber and Stoller classic.
"Bell's upbeat covers, and perhaps his knee-wiggling dance moves, inspired Presley, Johnson said. He loved Freddie's version," Johnson said. "He added new words and a better beat." He went to Las Vegas in 1953 from his hometown of Philadelphia and was considered one of the great lounge acts of the time, alongside the trio of Sam Butera, Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Johnson said. He was good friends with some of the most popular performers of the era. "They remained friends throughout Elvis' lifetime," Johnson said. "Freddie was very, very close to Frank Sinatra. That was one of his compadres. Whenever they were in any town performing, Frank would show up, or Freddie would go to see him. "Bell also appeared in a number of films, including 1956's "Rock Around the Clock," starring Bill Haley.